The festering row between Tory MP Ian Liddell-Grainger and his fellow party members on West Somerset Council has flared up in spectacular fashion. Liddell-Grainger is involved in a war of words with council leader Anthony Trollope-Bellew over the future of the district.
At stake is what will happen to West Somerset Council. It’s in financial trouble and most people believe it cannot survive alone. For some time, the council has been involved in joint working with Taunton Deane Council and a full merger between the two is now on the cards.
Trollope-Bellew, as Conservative leader in West Somerset is backing the merger, with – he says – “a heavy heart.” But Liddell-Grainger, Conservative MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, has been scathing in his criticism. He wants Sedgemoor Council to be involved in any deal – and he has roped in the prime minister, Theresa May saying she is on his side of the argument.
Liddell-Grainger issued a press release last week, saying Mrs May was “seriously concerned” about the future of local government in West Somerset. Now if you believe that, you’ll believe anything. But Ian seemed to be quite serious in his assertion. Anyhow, his press release drew a response from Trollope-Bellew, who has circulated it with a list of ten “factual corrections” in red ink.
So, who do you believe, Liddell-Grainger or Trollope-Bellew?
LIDDELL-GRAINGER: “There may be only nine councillors left (in West Somerset)”
TROLLOPE-BELLEW: “14 is the more likely number.”
LIDDELL-GRAINGER: “The Boundaries Commission will aically order a referendum.”
TROLLOPE-BELLEW: “This is factually inaccurate, a voluntary merger would not trigger a referendum.”
LIDDELL-GRAINGER “(There is) a large hidden expense.”
TROLLOPE-BELLEW : “There are no large hidden expenses.”
LIDDELL-GRAINGER: “Theresa May…. does not want to see two councils merged in unseemly haste.”
TROLLOPE-BELLEW: “West Somerset delayed its decision by more than month. A decision needs to be made now.”
LIDDELL-GRAINGER: “The deal has a heavy price tag… and the savings are only potential.”
TROLLOPE-BELLEW: “The business case has been given the green light as credible and deliverable.”
And so on. The extraordinary thing about this unseemly public row is that it is between two men who live about three miles apart on the Quantocks. Trollope-Bellew told the Free Press how sorry he was that Liddell-Grainger had not had the good manners to contact him about the issue.
This is all reminiscent of Liddell-Grainger’s public falling out with the previous Tory leader in West Somerset, Tim Taylor. That ended with Taylor saying Liddell-Grainger was “ill informed, back-stabbing, destructive, underhand, bullying and unfit to be a Member of Parliament”
And we think the Labour Party is fractious.
A final thought. In the middle of all this, we learn that the prime minister has invited Liddell-Grainger to a private meeting in Downing Street on Wednesday. Now if you were Theresa May, why would you do that? Could it be that she’s going to break the news to him that Hinkley C is being cancelled? You read it here first!